Thursday, July 28, 2005

Equal Access to Education

During the UMNO General Assembly which was just completed (see highlights here), a Selangor delegate, Dr Amran Kasimin (the number of "Dr"s making headlines is a tad scary) put up a motion calling for "more access to education for Malay youths and an improvement in the quality of education".

In his motion, he made several assertions:

  1. The assembly also called for compulsory formal education to be raised from six to 11 years.

  2. The shrinking number of Malay students in both public and private universities was worrying.

    “Since meritocracy was introduced, fewer and fewer Malay students are getting into universities."

  3. The motion on education and religion, among others, also called on the Government to seriously addres s the widening levels in academic achievement between Malay and non-Malay students.

  4. He suggested that a medical college specifically for Malay students be set up so as to reduce the divide between Malay and non-Malay students.

My opinions and response are as follows:

  1. I will fully support that education be made compulsory for 11 years - although I must say that this will be a tad ambitious at this point of time. Firstly, the number of schools and teachers will not be able to support the number of students, particularly at secondary level. If we were to "force" the education on the students who would otherwise have dropped out, then we may be reducing the resources available as well as the quality of education to the students who have shown greater potential in furthering their studies.

  2. This point about the "shrinking" intake of Malay students in local universities, which is raised by many many UMNO politicians is hard to understand. The facts which I have at hand, published in the local newspapers says the exact opposite - that Malay student intake has in fact increased, and the number of Malay students entering Medicine have grown at a faster than proportionate rate, compared to the non-bumiputera students!

  3. There is this continual perception, particularly amongst the UMNO politicians that there is a "widening" in levels of achievement between bumiputera and non-bumiputera students. I'm really uncertain as to how factually true this is, between say 5 or 10 years ago, compared to today. I'd rather like to think that while there is a sizeable gap in achievement, this gap hasn't really "widened" in the past decade.

    I would argue that the fact that the gap remains despite the adversity faced by many of the non-bumiputera students points clearly to the failure of the current affirmative action education policies. This failure is not explicitly denied by these UMNO politicians, but they are however not obviously recognised either. The current set of affirmative action education policies, while well-intended to boost the achievements of the bumiputera students, are misguided and might in itself have actually contributed to the stagnation or even the decline of the achievements of bumiputeras in education. I support having a certain amount of affirmative action policies to benefit the less privileged communities. However these policies should not disincentivise the target community in their educational endeavours. It is my opinion that the current set of policies which significantly eases the entry to institutions of higher education, which lowers the standards of the educational syllabus (for example, that of English language), which provides substantial preferential treatment for scholarships - lead to many in the target community being disincentivised from striving and working harder to reach their full academic potential. Instead of reducing the achievement gap between bumiputera and non-bumiputera students, the current policies (some of which are being reformed) have instead backfired and served to instead institutionalise or even widen the gap.

  4. If the government chooses to implement the types of policies advocated by some during the UMNO general assembly - such as dedicated medical schools for the bumiputera students "to reduce the divide between Malay and non-Malay students", it'll only serve to enhance, and ensure that the "divide" becomes a structural divide which will be even more difficult to eliminate in the future.
The government must exercise strict discipline to avoid such short term policies for the purposes of political expediency, particularly if it's just to satisfy some misguided outspoken grassroots leader in UMNO. Some of these hare-brained schemes will not only harm national unity, but will also backfire on its own objectives to improve the achievements of the bumiputera community. With the clues given by the current administration during in its public statements to date, I'm hopeful that they are serious in remedying (instead of deepening) the mistakes of the past.

1 comment:

disgruntled citizen said...

a very good blog..

genuine facts and info.

thanks mate, especially on the "meritocracy" debate.

f*ck inequalities out of malaysia!